Recently, the kind folks at the Annex said enough was enough — we needed to get our boxes of extra equipment out of their storage space.

Rather than let the boxes sit around here and collect dust, we decided to dive in and see what we had, whether it was worth keeping or needed to go.

Aside from a several flatbed scanner lids and a pretty sweet turntable, we also found two 16mm film projectors. We couldn’t decide which one to keep — not having any good way at hand to test them — so we kept them both.

(Click on the images below to see larger versions.)

Singer Insta-load 16:

We have no idea how old it is, probably from as early as the 1960s or as late as the 1980s.

Here’s the same model in action:


Bell & Howell Filmosound Specialist, from the 1960s or 1970s:


A Bell and Howell cousin in action:


Newly online: materials about slave labor at UA, 1820s-1860s

We know them by first name only, and there’s a good chance those are not the names they were born with. Men called William, Moses, Edwards, Patrick, Sam, Major, Quillen, Arthur, Speers, Robert, Andrew, Swindle, Peter, Erasmus, Anderson, Jack, Isaac, and Jim (among others) were very much a part of the early life of the University of Alabama, but they’ve long remained in the shadows of history. Why? They were slaves, essentially rented (or bought) from local owners to do work at the University.

Typically, these men performed outdoor labor like “hauling” and “cutting”…


…but some took on domestic duties:


Be it ordained by the Trustees of the University of Alabama; that in addition to the servant now owned by the University the faculty Pres. of Board of Trustees shall be authorized to hire purchase one other competent servant at the lowest terms that can be procured, for the service of the Dormitories; and be it further ordained; that the Steward shall board the two college servants, to compensate for which he shall have their service during meals, and also during vacations.

While the “servants” mentioned above were apparently permanent (notice the change of “hire” to “purchase”), most were temporary manual laborers. They worked at the University for a prescribed time, and the money for their labor was remitted to their owners. Here are a couple of examples of receipts for their wages:


The University also had to feed and in some cases clothe and otherwise care for the slaves, especially the permanent domestic servants:

Dozens of invoices for such transactions, as well as other related receipts and memos, are included in the University Archives. These administrative records can now be accessed online in our digital repository, Acumen.

Related material:

  • Another collection of interest on the history of slavery in Alabama is the S. D. Cabaniss papers. Cabaniss, a lawyer, took on a controversial mid-19th c. case. Samuel Townsend, an unmarried planter who owned more than half a dozen plantations, wanted to leave his property to some of his slaves, many of whom were also his children. Townsend’s will took years to settle, providing us a look at the legal system of the day…and the ways in which it was being forced to change with the times.
  • For other items and collections relating to slavery, go to Acumen and enter the search term “slavery.”

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1870s English Literature lecture notebook

Philology, n. the study of literary texts and of written records; linguistics, especially historical and comparative linguistics; Obsolete: the love of learning and literature.

Long before literature students spent their time looking for symbolism and theme in poems and stories, the study of literature was about appreciating the beauty of the language and sentiment in literary texts. Along with this came a serious study of the linguistic roots of texts, or just linguistics in general — how English came to be the way it is, and how it works.

All these definitions of Philology come into play in a lecture notebook from Professor Benjamin Franklin Meek, from the 1872-1873 school year. Meek taught Latin and Greek at UA during the 1860s and literature from the 1870s to his death in 1899.


Meek begins all the way back at the Roman occupation of England and its influence on the “Celtic tongue,” tracing English through the Saxon invasions, the influx of Danish peoples, and finally the Norman conquest, when Old English crashed into Old French.

He goes so far as to show a table of the proportion of Saxon words in the writings of major authors to date:


Translating the Bible into English

After this history lesson, he takes up the topic of the Christian Bible: “for no work in the language, viewed simply as a literary production, has had a more profound historical influence over the world of English speaking people.” He discusses the various ancient translations (such as the Septuagint and Vulgate) that eventually led to English versions of the Bible like the Douay–Rheims and more familiar King James versions.

Major Authors

A further section of the notebook contains commentary on specific parts of the course textbook, referencing works like Piers Plowman and Paradise Lost, and writers like Ben Jonson, Alexander Pope, and Daniel Defoe. Also referenced were physicist Isaac Newton and theologian/hymn writer Isaac Watts, showing that philosophical writings were also important to the study of literature in the 19th c.

American Literature?

As expected, little attention is given to American Literature as a whole, which didn’t gain a foothold in the academy until the 20th c. But he does include specific American writers like Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Nathaniel Hawthorne among his major authors. Here are his comments on Edgar Allan Poe, to whom he says “the text[book] does not do justice”:


Shakespeare and Linguistics

The remainder of the book is given over to “Lectures on the English of Shakespeare,” which uses Shakespeare’s works to talk about the differences between Elizabethan and Victorian (then-modern) English.


On the inside back cover you find an examination given to the senior class in February 1873. I happen to have a PhD in Anglo-American literature, but the study of literature has changed so much that there’s no way I would pass this exam… as you’ll see below with my no-cheating, off-the-cuff answers.


1. They were Celtic peoples?
2. The Romans brought Latin, Saxon exerted a major influence on the native Celtic language which is still seen today (especially in our expletives), I have no idea how the Danes influenced us, and the Normans brought French, which changed the structure of our language a lot (made it less germanic and more latin) and contributed a lot of words.
3. ???
4. ???
5. [I know how we divide periods now, but then?]
6. Edmund Spenser helped popularize the sonnet in English and wrote The Fairie Queen, an allegorical epic poem in iambic pentameter, with just enough hexameter to make it really tedious to read.
7. [If I answered the first part of this I would be cheating, since I read the names as I perused Meek's notes.] The King James version was commissioned by King James I of England, based on the Latin Vulgate. It is a word-for-word translation, rather than a sense-for-sense translation.
8. He was born in the 18th century and died in the 19th century. He wrote historical novels like Ivanhoe.
9. [Once again, I would be cheating to answer this, although I probably would've guessed correctly.]
10. (1) ???, (2) Thomas More, (3) Dryden?, (4) ???, (5) Poe

How did I do? :)

More adventures in 3D printing

We wanted to share an update on our ongoing 3D printing adventures.

Good news

Here’s the smaller part I mentioned before, the one that came out perfectly using PLA at 15% fill on the printer we’ve been working with all along. Here it is from above (left) and on its side (right):


Bad news

However, we’re still having cooling/contracting problems with the previously attempted parts (discussed in the last post), seen here an attempt to print at 15% fill:


On a positive note, these made it a lot further in the process (all the way past the second bore hole) before things went bad.

Changing another variable

Apparently, the biggest danger with the cooling/contracting issue is that the raft anchoring the piece — which is made of the exact same material — begins to bow, so that it no longer sits flat on the table. As you can image, that makes it pretty easy for the filling process to knock the piece around, and then nothing lines up properly anymore.

Jeremiah conjectured that this bowing effect in the raft was worse here because of the regular, unbroken footprint made by the rectangular bottom of the piece. Compare that to the open, irregular footprint of the piece in the first picture above.

Crisis averted?

So the next time he tried to print one of the pieces, he altered the design (and the STL file) so that the piece lies on its side, which is not rectangular, as you can see here:


That seems to have done the trick. Of course, the other possibility is that simply printing one piece at a time, rather than four, decreases the probability of something going haywire.

At any rate, we look forward to sharing pictures of all the pieces — and assembled! — when we get to that point in the process.


Adventures in 3D printing

Our Digitization Manager, Jeremiah, has been working on a local grant to develop a way to capture relief data from otherwise mostly flat materials like embossed paper, wax seals on envelopes, and the surface of coins. The project is currently in the preparation phase, which means Jeremiah is doing some equipment building.

Instead of buying parts and constructing things from scratch, he decided to really begin at square one, designing the main components in Sketchup and exporting them as files that can be used to print the pieces on a 3D printer. That way, when we share the details of the capture technique, we can also share those files.

Unfortunately, trying to make this project scaleable for others means a lot of refinement of the component design and printing process.

The plan

Jeremiah is by no means a novice with 3D printing, but knowing how to create a good design and STL file doesn’t always mean you can predict how the materials and particular printer will behave. So far, he’s now made a couple of attempts at printing a set of roughly rectangular blocks that have two holes running through them, as seen in this image:


Here are aborted attempts at two of those pieces, being created from the bottom up:


So far, these look like the file visualization representing that point in the process:


The process

One layer at a time, the printer provides walls for the object and fills them with a varying crisscrossing pattern you can see up close here, looking down through the layers from the top:


In the middle (in red in the visualization above) is support material that will be removed from the finished object.

You can also see a pattern layer here on the left, in an earlier printing attempt:


And on the right? That’s what you get when things begin to go wrong with the fill.

The problem

As the material cools, it contracts. If that begins happening as the object is still being created, eventually the crisscrossing fill will not quite line up properly with the object it’s filling in. Below, you can see a good print job that went awry:


The printer hit a snag with the piece on the right (see the bottom of the image) and everything began to go off track, as is evident in this closeup:


The solution

Jeremiah knew there might be some trial-and-error involved in perfecting the design, so he was prepared to make changes that will combat the cooling/shrinking problem.

  • Use a different material: the lighter, shinier blue material in the above photos, PLA (a bioplastic), is less apt to contract than the darker material, ABS (a polymer you’ll know from its use in Lego bricks).
  • Use less of it: reducing the amount of fill crisscrossing the interior of the object (in this case, 20% down to 15%) and thinning its outer walls will lessen the amount of material there to contract.
  • Slow the cooling process: the location of this particular printer makes it hard to keep shielded from the room-temperature air of the surrounding environment, so he’s making another attempt on a different machine, one with an enclosure that will keep the piece from cooling as it is still being formed.

Today, he successfully completed one of the smaller pieces out of PLA at 15% fill. We’ll keep you posted as things progress. In the meantime, we hope someone out there can learn from our adventures in 3D printing.

Life in the mines: Desegregated labor unions

Normally, we do a post on labor unions for labor day, but it seemed appropriate to bring up the subject for Black History Month, too. African Americans in Birmingham-area mines and industrial plants were often important leaders in efforts to unionize in the 1930s and 1940s. Others were workers brave enough to accept the invitation when it was offered to them, helping contribute to important changes in labor practices in America — for blacks as well as whites.

The Working Lives Oral History Project features many interviews with their recollections about the period, some of which are summarized below.


Frank Sykes, a worker at ACIPCO (American Cast Iron Pipe Company), talks about attempts to unionize the plant, including holding a “wildcat” strike:

See, you really can’t have a strike. We just stopped the shop. It took the Army, Navy, and Marines and everybody else, the Air Force and everybody to get us back in that plant. They had representatives out there and meetings. “Now, y’all please get back to work. We’ve got to have this stuff.” Said, “Now, things are going to get better for you, hear.” Well, it’s the government talking, you go ahead on back and take a chance on it. But they get things rolling good, you never do hear no more about it, then you’ve got to walk out again.

Clearly for Sykes, having a labor union would’ve made the situation better.


Jesse Grace was an ore miner at Muscoda from the time he was 15 to the time the mine closed in 1954. Until he worked in the mine, he had never heard of the union but was warned by his employers to not have anything to do with “folks come from up North or somewhere or another, wanting to get y’all in a union.” Unionizing began in 1933:

Some had worked in Kentucky and some had worked, you know, in different places up there, in the coal mines. They knew what it was all about. Well, see, we didn’t know nothing about it … But after they told us about it, you know, then we all joined in together and formed a union, ’cause we wanted better working conditions…

Grace goes on to say that unionizing was often a violent enterprise, like a war: Well, see, I’d say that the union and the company, you know, it was just like Vietnam.


In the 1930s, William E. Mitch moved to Alabama from Indiana, where his father was an organizer for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Mitch’s father was shocked to find that Alabama had no unions.

Mitch recalls various challenges in trying to establish labor unions in the South, including the inaccessibility of rural employees, threats of reprisal from employers and being required to hold meetings in secret. He added that local governments were also often anti-union because they were afraid that unions would run industry off.

Race, however, was less of a factor than many might suppose: …the coal miners are unique. The race was not a big item. They worked side by side… Including in the union, in companies like U.S. Steel (then Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company [TCI]) which employed both races. Unions were also important in primarily black companies like Woodward Iron Company and Alabama Byproducts Corporation. Mitch says, I don’t believe without the cooperation of the blacks, organization on a broad basis would ever have been possible.


Morris Benson, an employee at TCI’s Ensley plant, helped organize fellow steelworkers in 1936 after learning about the union from an organizer:

When he got to explaining it to me, I figured if everybody joined, they couldn’t fire all of us. … I tried to get everybody to join. In fact, everybody in that department joined, and you can’t fire a whole lot of men when they take care of big machines.

Firing people for joining the United Steelworkers (USW) didn’t stop it: Every time they would fire a man, it make the fire burn more and more. Luckily, Benson reports that there wasn’t much violence at his plant.

After the coming of organizer John L. Lewis, Benson says that things improved for miners and, by extension, for all unionized workers in the area. Segregation laws proved a bit challenging — there were separate toilets and drinking fountains — but the workers themselves at least decided to stop sitting on separate sides of the room.


Robert Washington talks about forming a local of the Brick and Clay Workers (BCW) union, although it disbanded so they could join the USW in 1942. He describes an incident with a group of white inspectors who didn’t want to join the USW, who instead formed a new BCW local. This caused problems:

We tried to get them to let their contract expire at the same time ours expired, so we could, if they would strike, then we would both be together. … They didn’t, they couldn’t come to an agreement on the– their contract. So they struck. We stayed out two weeks with them, and finally they, we, couldn’t get food stamps. We couldn’t get any relief from our union, because we had broken our contract by not coming to work.

According to Washington, the USW workers then had to go back to work, and about that time, the Ku Klux Klan came in to picket with the BCW, and things went from bad to worse.


Constance Price talks about her father, Walter W. Jones, who helped organize the UMWA in Birmingham, having moved there at the behest of John L. Lewis. She recalls that her father’s life was often in jeopardy because of his work organizing the union, but she says the whites usually looked after him, helped keep him safe. However, Price says she was always aware that her father was in danger:

Because he tried to hide it from my mother, my mother was one who, she was a small woman. And, she used to sit up and cry and all, and finally she’d tell us, say, “Your daddy hasn’t come home yet.” … We didn’t have sense enough to know the real, I guess seriousness of it, be we knew it was something bad because mama was crying.


W. J. Ridgeway worked in the first mine in the state to have a union, in the 1920s. It was run by a man from Pennsylvania: He was no southerner; he thought that things down here was about like they was in Pennsylvania. After the operator signed a contract with the union, assuming he had to, the mine went out of business: …after they got the union broke there, well, it wasn’t just broke, he had to shut down. ‘Cause he couldn’t operate, he wasn’t getting the money to operate the mine.

But while it lasted, the union at that mine was unusual for the time, with blacks and whites meeting together: Now, they didn’t meet that way nowheres else that I know of, in the state… we all, white and all, met together in the same union hall.

Ridgeway recalls how the state militia tried to break the union by bringing in farmers and other men to work, telling them they could make a lot of money. They were guarded and separated from the unionized workers at first, but sometimes the unionized workers would find a way to win them over anyway.


Curtis Maggard recalls the organization of the Steelworkers’ Union in Birmingham at the TCI plant in Ensley. He recalls being laid off for up to a week sometimes because he was trying to get people to join the union. He says people were scared to join for that very reason, so the union took two years to get off the ground. He recalls that blacks and whites were both in the union. The union was good for blacks especially:

It opened the door for me. I would not have had the privilege had it not been for the union getting jobs I would not have gotten. ‘Cause in the union, you go step by step, and the next job come to the oldest man that is entitled to it. … When I quit I had the highest paying job that they had.


Click on the links above to listen to any of these interviews in full, and to read along in the transcripts. Or check out the whole collection of audio + transcripts, with extensive summaries for each of the 72 interviews, through this link.



Papers of H. D. Clayton Sr., General, statesman, and UA President

Over the last few months, we’ve been digitizing the papers of Henry De Lamar Clayton, Sr. As our student worker Ellyn and I see the final box of materials in sight, it seems like a good time to give an overview of what you’ll find if you want to dig in to the collection. Click on any of the thumbnail images below to see them in detail.

Born in Georgia in 1827, Clayton attended college in Virginia and eventually moved to Alabama, learning about law while working under future Alabama Governor John Gill Shorter. From 1857-1861, he served in the Alabama Legislature. Go to the finding aid and open up the series Family and Personal Data or Emory and Henry Colleges to see personal correspondence, newsclippings, and other documents about this period.

When war came, he distinguished himself, commanding the First Alabama Regiment, which was reorganized as the Ninth Alabama Volunteers. After being wounded in the battle of Murfreesboro, he was promoted from colonel to brigadier general. His brigade fought at Chickamauga and in the Atlanta campaign, among other encounters. Eventually, he was made major general, commanding a division that fought mostly in campaigns in Georgia and Tennessee. Go to the finding aid and open up the series Generalship to see papers relating to his Civil War service, including personal correspondence and military papers like muster rolls and reports to his superiors.

After the war, Clayton was a planter, then he was elected Judge of the Circuit Court in 1866, a position he lost two years later because of Reconstruction laws. He was a lawyer again until those laws allowed for his reelection, and he held his Judgeship for 20 years. Though he failed in a bid for Alabama Governor, he was elected the President of The University of Alabama in 1886. Three years later, he died in Tuscaloosa. For information on this period, see the series Legal Practice and JudgeshipPolitics, and University of Alabama Presidency in the  finding aid.

In every collection of personal papers, there is material that doesn’t quite seem to belong but is interesting nonetheless. Among the Miscellaneous and Artifacts series are an assortment of random items, some of which belonged to his wife or sons. The most interesting item is something we can’t formally digitize, although I did take a picture of it. A bayonet from WWI, perhaps belonging to his son Bertram, who died in the war.

You never know what else you  might find in the papers of this fascinating figure!

UA Army ROTC Scrapbooks

Since last fall, we’ve had the opportunity to digitize a sizable set of large scrapbooks from a surprising source: the University of Alabama Army ROTC. Who knew that military men and women could be so interesting!

Dating from 1953 to 1983, these scrapbooks cover thirty years of activity for the group — and thirty years of American culture. The books (the latter half of which are online, with more to come) give us a sense of the changes in group activities and training emphases as the Vietnam war came and went, evolving photography practices, and even shifts in styles of dress and hair (and facial hair!).

1960-61: A visit from Governor John Patterson

visit from the governor, 1960-1961 volume

1969-70: Worn out from field training exercises (FTX)

ROTC members resting during training, 1969-1970 volume

Facing protesters during an exhibition on the Quad

students protesting the ROTC, 1969-1970 volume

1970-71: Ropes course at Rangers training

on the ropes course, 1970-1971 volume

Parachute training at summer camp

parachute training, 1970-1971 volume

1971-72: Homecoming parade, Sponsors float

sponsors in the homecoming parade, 1971-1972 volume

Training at Ft. McClellan

training, 1971-1972 volume

shooting practice, 1971-1972 volume

1972-73: Scabbard and Blade blood drive

blood drive, 1972-1973 volume

1978-1979: Self Defense training

hand-to-hand combat practice, 1978-1978 volume

Raft races

rafting trip, 1978-1978 volume

Mid-winter commissioning

midwinter commission, 1978-1978 volume

1980-81: Rangers building the Homecoming bonfire

building the homecoming bonfire, 1980-1981 volume

Rapelling practice

rapelling practice, 1980-1981 volume

1981-1982: FTX at Fort McClellan

training, 1981-1982 volume

Helicopter at Rangers FTX

helicopter, 1981-1982 volume

1982-83: Annual Military Ball

annual military ball, 1982-1983 volume

1983-84: Annual Military Ball

at annual military ball, 1983-1984 volume

Parade banner

alabama corps of cadets, 1983-1984 volume

We’re still working our way through this collection, so stay tuned as we continue to move back and back, all the way to 1953.

Thought for the Day: 19th century poetry and the daily newspaper

Newspaper clippings are a common type of content in larger collections of personal or family papers. Though a lot of them help record news about the family or about important current events, many are simply interesting pieces of writing someone wanted to remember.

Poetry was a pretty common interest for late 19th c. newspaper clippers, if our collections are any indication. Especially thought-provoking or inspirational poems were often gathered together with other quotes into a single section, with a title like “Thought for the Day.”

Though the poems might be written by local celebrities, they were more frequently culled from previously published work by popular poets of the day, such as Eugene Field, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

ella wheeler wilcox poem

Still other poems come from writers many of us still read in English class. For example, Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was still apparently quite popular around the turn of the 20th century:

wordsworth poem

As was Percy Shelley (1792-1822).

Shelley, from Prometheus Unbound

This is an abridged version of the final stanza of his verse drama Prometheus Unbound (1820), given in its entirety here:

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than Death or Night;
To defy Power, which seems Omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope, till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change nor falter nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan! is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life; Joy, Empire, and Victory!

Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1882), is perhaps the most common among the clipped. The 1847 poem given below is actually titled “Tears, Idle Tears,” but the heading it was given for the newspaper is maybe more descriptive:

tennyson poem

Fellow Victorian Robert Browning (1812-1889) is known for verse that was the opposite of uplifting and inspirational, so it’s not surprising that the poem we find as a “Thought for the Day” is among the best of the minority. “Rabbi Ben Ezra” (1864) so moved John Lennon, for example, that he wrote a love song based on it, “Grow Old With Me“. This is the poem’s first stanza:

robert browning poem

Robert’s wife, fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), is probably even more famous, especially for this sonnet, number 43 of her Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850):

elizabeth barrett browning poem

Popular American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), best known for “Paul Revere’s Ride” and The Song of Hiawatha, also pops up from time to time, as seen in this lesser-known 1878 poem:

longfellow poem

Rudyard Kipling of Jungle Book fame is represented by “The Vampire” inspired by a painting by artist Philip Burne-Jones:

kipling poem

Kipling’s poem (and Burne-Jones’s painting) came out in 1897, bringing us up to within a few years of when these works appeared in the newspapers they were clipped from. It reminds us that late 19th and early 20th century folks found real, everyday value in poetry, from the tried and true to more recent offerings. They held familiar lines in their hearts the same way we collect song lyrics or movie quotes. I bet if Facebook had been around 100 years ago, they would’ve made fantastic GIFs and memes. :)

To find clippings of all sorts in Acumen, enter into the search bar genre:clippings. For more poetry, enter subject:poetry.